But do we really get such a choice? When you look at their beliefs, most of the establishment "conservatives" turn out to be right-liberals, who follow something similar to an older classical liberalism.
So our choice is, in reality, restricted to two variants of liberalism: a social democratic left-liberalism and a free market oriented right-liberalism.
I'm not alone in doubting the credentials of the establishment conservatives. In a recent article at Brussels Journal, Takuan Seiyo pulled no punches in describing the limited options for voters in the US elections:
In the United States - a country that has ruined itself through its own naïveté about human nature, about the world and about itself, the presidential election is being contested between a right-liberal candidate of the Stupid Party and a left-liberal candidate of the Evil Party.
Over at What's Wrong with the World, a similar observation is made:
"Conservatism" is in our time not conservatism but right-liberalism: political liberalism with a few 'conservative' unprincipled exceptions ... For a while that meant that 'conservatism' was classical liberalism; now it means, for the most part, culturally 'big tent' neoconservatism ...
So looking beyond the election of this very moment, the way to beat the Left politically ... is to stop becoming the Left ... the hard Left has a whole core worldview which anchors it and which it will not give up for anything. The Right has nothing of the kind: the political Right is basically a classical liberalism / neoconservatism ...
... as long as 'conservatives' are willing to support liberals like McCain just because he tepidly throws them a few policy bones, conservatism will be not merely neutralized, but will remain complicit in the inexorable march of liberal modernity/postmodernity. (Hat tip: Vanishing American)
It's important then for a newer generation of conservatives to support something other than right-liberalism. Which raises the question of how we define a genuine, non-liberal conservatism.
I won't attempt here to give a definitive answer to the question. I just want to kick things off by making a few relevant points.
First, you can't be a conservative unless you are seeking to conserve some aspect of the society you live in.
The thing you want to conserve, though, cannot be liberal values. If this is what you want to conserve, then you are a liberal and not a conservative.
The former Australian Prime Minister, Malcolm Fraser, attempted to define conservatism as conserving liberal values. In a speech he made while in office, he stated openly that:
.... ours is a liberal government holding liberal principles.
He went on to argue that:
I have stressed the commitment of the Government to liberal principles and values. Precisely because of that commitment it is also concerned to conserve and protect those principles and values.
Once liberal institutions are installed in a society, a government which wishes to preserve them must in some sense be conservative.
The idea that conservatism means preserving liberal values is a losing one for genuine conservatives. Fraser in his subsequent political life has proved this over and over by adopting all the latest "progressive" liberal views.
There's a second pitfall to be avoided. It's no use seeking to conserve a particular entity in society on the liberal grounds that the entity can be defined any way we want it to be.
Former Liberal Party minister Tony Abbott took this road not so long ago. In a speech full of eloquent references to Edmund Burke, he sought to defend the family as follows:
Supporting families shouldn’t mean favouring one family type over others. We have to resist yearning for “ideal” families and “traditional” mothers. Every family is a source of nurturing and security for its members.
This is useless. What are we really seeking to conserve if it's thought illegitimate to favour one family type over others? If all kinds of living arrangements are equally valid, then the task is not to conserve any existing arrangement, but to overthrow any preference or advantage for the traditional type. We are back with a radical liberalism, rather than a genuine conservatism.
So a genuine conservatism must seek to conserve a distinct entity of society that is not a liberal value or institution.
People are most likely to be drawn toward a genuine conservatism if what they wish to conserve is their own larger communal tradition, i.e. their ethny or nation.
I'll give as an example a recent defence of fatherhood by American columnist Kathleen Parker. She wrote:
as long as boys are bereft of strong fathers and our young men and women wage sexual war, then we risk cultural suicide.
In the coming years we will need men who are not confused about their responsibilities. We need boys who have acquired the virtues of honour, courage, valour and loyalty. We need women willing to let men be men – and boys be boys. And we need young men and women who will commit and marry and raise children in stable homes.
I'm not exactly sure where Kathleen Parker stands politically. She may not be consistently conservative in the way I'd prefer. Nonetheless, the above quote is useful because it shows how an aversion to 'cultural suicide' encourages a wider concern for the traditions which sustain a society.
Kathleen Parker is right to suggest that unless boys are brought up to be confident about the masculine virtues, they are less likely to make adult commitments, particularly to family life.
If there is no tradition you identify with, then this won't seem so problematic. If there is no larger entity you are trying to keep going, then you're less likely to be concerned if young men lack confidence and direction and if family formation is disrupted.
So it works best if conservatives set out to conserve their own larger communal tradition - their ethny or nation - rather than one aspect of it alone (such as family, church, language, culture or history).